By Charlotte Van Campenhout, Clement Rossignol and Christian Levaux
ANTWERP (Reuters) – The EU regards organised drug crime as threatening as terrorism and wants to tackle the fight against it on a European level, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday during a visit to Belgium’s port of Antwerp, Europe’s main entrance for cocaine.
Last year, a record 110 tons of cocaine was intercepted at the Antwerp port, accounting for 40% of all seizures in Europe. But local custom authorities estimate that is only 10 to 15% of the total cocaine smuggled into the port.
Belgium’s minister for the interior, Annelies Verlinden, who accompanied Johansson to the port, said the work of local police and customs is of no use if the EU doesn’t work with the countries where the drugs come from and the ones where drug lords reside.
The popularity of Antwerp port with drug criminals has resulted in a rise in drug-related violence in Belgium.
Last September, Belgium’s minister of justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, had to go into hiding after threats from Dutch drug criminals, and last month, an 11-year-old girl died after being caught in a drug-related shooting.
“Drug use is what killed this girl”, the commissioner said, stressing that recreational drug users in Europe who don’t consider themselves addicts are partly responsible for drug-related crimes.
Both Johansson and Verlinden do not regard legalisation of drugs as a solution, emphasizing instead the need for prevention and an addiction-free society.
As the majority of drugs entering Europe comes from South America, mostly from Ecuador, Johansson and Verlinden said it’s important that the EU cooperate with third countries in the global fight against drugs trafficking.
Johansson and Verlinden will visit Ecuador and Colombia later this month.
(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Clement Rossignol, Christian Levaux; Editing by Leslie Adler)